- I was able to compare the verdicts and reasoning from the online jury to a mock trial which I had done on the same case in the same venue only eight months earlier.
- Nobody that I know of has tried an online face-to-face jury deliberation. There have been surveys and some moderated discussions and even deliberations by teleconference but no face to face, autonomous deliberations. So another goal of this experiment was to assess the authenticity of an online deliberation when jurors are physically at home but face-to-face in a virtual room in the Cloud.
The mock trial ran a day and a half and included thirteen hours of testimony, argument and jury deliberations. It was an employment discrimination case, and the plaintiff claimed he was harassed and terminated because he was Muslim. The online focus group ran 2 ¼ hours and included 45 minutes of evidence and 45 minutes of deliberation. The two studies shared the same case facts and the same jury pool. They did not share a comparable amount of time to present evidence. I chose this case for an online jury study because I thought it would lend itself to an abbreviated presentation of evidence.
Nine jurors (five men and four women) from the federal venue in eastern Massachusetts were in their homes at 6:00 p.m. and connected on an Adobe platform through computers, tablets and web cameras. I could see and talk to them. They could see and talk to me and each other. There were back room observers who could not be seen but who could observe everything and send messages to me. The technology worked well.
The lead defense lawyer gave a fifteen minute balanced overview of the case facts, as he had in the mock trial. We followed that with testimony from four witnesses. That testimony could have been live or by video, but since this was a self-funded experiment I played two of the witnesses and the defense lawyer asked the questions. The jurors read the testimony of the other two witnesses. They could only read it on screen; they couldn’t download a document.
We were able to ask survey questions after each witness. We used the same questions we had in the mock trial so we could make comparisons on both credibility and case themes. I gave short jury instructions, told them to choose their own foreperson, guided them on how to structure their discussion, posted a verdict form and then left the virtual room (my image disappeared by turning off my web camera).
The jury deliberations went remarkably well, although the jurors needed more time and could have used some techniques for signaling when to interrupt or make a point. The jurors voiced a full range of opinions and echoed nearly all of the same themes from the mock trial.
My quick take-aways were: 1) you can have a productive and robust jury discussion in an online environment; 2) the platform hosting technology is reliable; 3) a majority of households now have high-speed Internet connections so we can find participants who match the jury pool demographics; 4) the time and cost savings can be dramatic, especially if your case is out-of-town; 5) it’s best to think of this tool as a series of “apps” (for witnesses, discovery, experts, case themes, jury feedback etc.).
I have a 20 minute video that shows clips of the jury’s deliberations and case presentations as well as some data comparisons with the mock trial. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want the link to view the video.